On the Criminal Justice System: The Impact of Buffoonery

I recently heard someone state that they were working on a paper for school on the topic: "Is the US criminal justice system racist?" It made me remember that I had been assigned similar class papers and had to argue the question from both perspectives. My feeling is that there are unfair racial elements in policing, the courts, and corrections, but that I do not believe the system as a whole is racist.

I think that law scholar Donald Black makes a compelling argument that law is a form of social control and that a person’s class and four other factors, in general, determine how much exposure to the criminal justice system that one can expect. Rather than pointing a finger at racial bias, he discusses how race can relate to his five factors.

For instance, Black surmises that government contacts with persons in the higher societal ranks commonly result in therapeutic and compensatory approaches, while contacts with persons considered having lower societal statuses are more likely to receive penal treatment. He supports his ideas with research showing that police officers were more likely to warn youths from strong families discovered committing minor delinquent offenses. In contrast, delinquent young persons with little or no family support were more apt to be cited by police or taken into custody.

Whether one buys into Black’s argument or someone stating that the CJ system is racially bias, I think the most convincing argument is not mentioned very often--that the US criminal justice system is overrepresented by offenders who regularly display the behavior of buffoons. I offer an example from today's headlines:
New details have emerged about a party where Olympic champion Michael Phelps was spotted.

On Feb. 2, a British tabloid published a picture of the 14-time Olympic gold medalist using a water pipe to smoke marijuana. The picture was taken at a party in Columbia back in November when Phelps was here for a visit...

Now it appears the case has expanded beyond Phelps' activities.

The party took place in November at a house on Blossom Street near Five Points. It was at that house where someone snapped the photo of Phelps taking a hit on a marijuana pipe called a bong...

We've now learned that since investigators began trying to build a case, they've made eight arrests: seven for drug possession and one for distribution. These are arrests that resulted as the sheriff's department served search warrants.

We've also learned that the department has located and confiscated that bong.

Sources say the owner of the bong was trying to sell it on eBay for as much as $100,000.

The owner, who wasn't even at the party, is one of the eight now charged...
Let me get this straight--despite the sheriff stating publically that he wanted to prosecute persons from this incident, brilliant Mr. Water Bong Owner decides to advertise his MJ pipe for sale on eBay? You mean the sheriff’s department could really get a subpoena and determine Mr. Water Bong Owner’s identity from online records? Is it illegal to possess drug paraphernalia in Columbia, South Carolina?

For Mr. Water Bong Owner, the Phelps incident is irrelevant. The issue for him is now "were you in possession of the bong that you tried to sell?". It sounds like the sheriff's department solidified their case by recovering the item from his residence. I think the only thing Mr. Water Bong Owner forgot to do was install the neon sign on his front porch stating "Phelps and Friends Partied Here!"

The jails and prisons of the United States are filled with persons who were low hanging fruit for police—criminals that basically caught themselves. Police are more likely to apprehend the burglar who breaks into someone’s home, brags to all of his friends about the incident, accidentally leaves his wallet on the floor at the crime scene, and then pawns items engraved with the victim’s name as compared to burglar who methodically plans the entire caper, tells no one, and steals only items that are difficult to trace.

My thanks go to Mr. Water Bong Owner of South Carolina for providing me with the contemporary example of moronic behavior that I needed to complete this post…


mappchik said...

You know, I feel badly for those who do something dumb at a party and get into trouble, like in the case of Phelps, or many thousands of kids in their late teens & early 20s.

Mr. Water Bong Owner? Not even a little bit.

Slamdunk said...

I think the others arrested should berate Mr. Water Bong Owner as well. If it wasn't for his eBay advertisement, I doubt that anything more would have been made of the case.